Gophers men’s hockey defeats Notre Dame 4-1, gets back on track

Junior Bryce Brodzinski scored the game-winning goal in the second period.

Junior+Bryce+Brodzinski+celebrates+with+senior+Captain+Sammy+Walker+in+a+game+against+the+University+of+Notre+Dame++on+Friday%2C+October+29%2C+2021+at+3M+Arena+at+Mariucci+in+Minneapolis%2C+Minn.+

Junior Bryce Brodzinski celebrates with senior Captain Sammy Walker in a game against the University of Notre Dame on Friday, October 29, 2021 at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis, Minn.

by Michael Lyne , Sports Reporter

No. 7 Gophers men’s hockey (4-3) defeated No. 14 Notre Dame 4-1 at home in their Big Ten hockey opener to get back in the win column and end their losing streak at two games.

“[Our defensemen] were physical,” Gophers head coach Bob Motzko said. “We shut them down a lot tonight…it was probably our best game by our defensemen this year. We needed it.”

Like in their two first periods against Minnesota-Duluth, the Gophers had another slow start against Notre Dame. They did not register their first shot on goal until freshman Matthew Knies took a wrist shot from the slot 6:34 seconds into the period.

There was a lot of neutral zone play early on, with not much offensive zone possession for either team. The Gophers had a lot of opportunities for high-quality scoring chances, but they could not execute their final passes when they were in Notre Dame’s end of the ice.

Minutes before the halfway mark of the first period, the Gophers went on the penalty kill. They had a chance to score shorthanded, but senior Sammy Walker’s pass to Grant Cruikshank on a 2-1 did not connect. They ended up killing the penalty without allowing Notre Dame to find any high-quality scoring opportunities.

Notre Dame’s Solag Bakich received a pass at the blue line halfway through the period, entering the offensive zone on a breakaway. However, graduate student goaltender Jack LaFontaine made a huge save. From there, the Gophers started to build momentum.

“He’s the rock to this team,” sophomore Mason Nevers said. “He always makes that timely save when you need it.”

Junior Ryan Johnson sprung a pass to his junior counterpart, Ben Meyers. He skated down the left side of the ice, flew down the boards, and pulled off a wrap-around to give the Gophers a 1-0 lead. Meyers’ goal marks his second this season and Johnson’s fourth assist.

“It felt nice to get the first one on the board,” Johnson said. “Our previous game we hadn’t. We brought it to our attention and then just tried to have a better start and we got the first one.”

The Gophers went to the powerplay late but could not extend their lead as Notre Dame outshot them 9-4 in the first period.

As the second period got underway, the Gophers continued to build on their momentum. Johnson skated down the left side near the boards in the neutral zone and fed a pass to his junior counterpart, Bryce Brodzinski, just before he entered the offensive zone.

Then, Brodzinski dazzled his way to the top of the right circle and fired a low wrist shot into the left side of the net to extend the Gophers’ lead to 2-0. His goal marks his fifth this season and Jonhson’s fifth assist.

With 7:45 remaining in the second period, the Gophers went to their second power play of the evening, but they could not convert. Just before the end of the man-advantage, Notre Dame’s Graham Slaggert went in on a breakaway, firing a shot in the slot, but LaFontaine again made a huge save to keep the Fighting Irish off the scoreboard.

The Gophers went to their second penalty kill of the evening with 4:11 seconds to go in the second frame, and their penalty kill unit went to work. They killed off another Notre Dame power play and almost scored just after the kill as Cruikshank fed a long pass to sophomore Carl Fish out of the box, but he could not convert the high-quality scoring chance.

The second period went much better for the Gophers as they found their footing in the offensive zone and outshot the Fighting Irish 15-10. However, junior Jaxon Nelson got called for roughing at the end of the period.

The Gophers’ penalty kill once again stayed perfect and kept the Fighting Irish off the scoreboard, killing their third penalty of the game.

However, just minutes later, Notre Dame’s Slaggert put the Fighting Irish on the scoreboard 5:31 seconds into the third period. He picked up a loose puck behind the net, worked his way to the front of the Gophers’ goal unmarked, fired a shot, and beat LaFontaine after another attempt on his rebound.

The Gophers would add two more goals late in the third period. Nevers received a pass from Knies just before he entered the blueline. Nevers did the rest as he dazzled his way into the slot and fired a backhand shot into the upper right half of the net. Then, senior Blake McLaughlin added an empty-net goal with 1.3 seconds left to give the Gophers the 4-1 victory.

“Knies made an unbelievable cross-ice pass to me,” Nevers said. “[I] had a one-on-one, D came over, [I] got to the middle…luckily it found its way in.”
Nevers’ goal marks his fourth this season, while McLaughlin tallied his second.

In their first Big Ten game this season, their penalty kill went a perfect 3-3. LaFontaine also finished the night with 28 saves and a .966 save percentage.

“No question,” Motzko said on the Gophers’ penalty kill that played a considerable role in the win. “We used six killers out there upfront, our D was strong, and Jack [LaFontaine] was our best killer. We had a good look to us tonight in how we were doing it.”

The Gophers will complete their two-game home series against Notre Dame as they take on the Fighting Irish on Saturday, Oct. 30, at 5 p.m. at 3M Arena at Mariucci.